The baby is growing up lovely. His skin is a creamy shade of light brown, and his blue eyes get clearer every day. He smiles and laughs, and he does it frequently -- like his father, you think, but you know better than to say such a thing to Zoe.
Instead you say simply, "He's a beautiful child."
Zoe looks at you for a long moment, several beats, no expression on her face. Finally she says, "Thank you."
Zoe took a long time to name him; she hadn't thought it over at all during the pregnancy, you thought. For the first few days after his birth he had no name at all, before she finally decided on Daniel.
Nobody on the ship calls him that, of course. Mal refers to him as "the critter" when he thinks of him at all, Kaylee has a dozen extravagant nicknames for him, and most of the others get by with a healthy dose of "the baby," "the child" and "it." Zoe calls him honey.
All of you take turns caring for him when it's necessary -- Mal's dependence on Zoe hasn't decreased with her move into motherhood. You've not been working much lately, out here on these depressing border planets, so you've been volunteering for the task more frequently. Sometimes when you hold him you whisper Daniel in his ear.
You watch River, too, sometimes, when Simon cannot. She is fascinated by Daniel; she lies down beside him on the bed and gazes into his eyes, staring contests that can last hours.
"He's an old soul," she tells you one day, catching his small fingers around one of her own. You think of what it would be like, growing up on a ship like Serenity and among its people, alongside a silent scarred mother and the shadow of a father you never met. You can't disagree with her.
The new pilot's name is Ernest. He's pleasant and skilled, and intelligent enough not to push himself into the rest of you yet. Most people, you know, would not be that patient, but he seems to recognize the importance of allowing you time.
Zoe has never spoken to him. She keeps Wash's ashes in an urn besides their bed and never, ever removes her gun.
You have to admit to yourself that you are surprised when she comes to you, but perhaps you shouldn't be. You told Mal when you first came on Serenity that you would never service his crew. But your dedication to proving a point has never exceeded your dedication to serving those who need you.
She is a force of nature, you think, as she kisses you, uses you roughly. An earthmother, an ocean of grief.
Afterwards she lies still on your bed, gazing up at your ceiling, her nakedness barely concealed by your fine sheets.
There is emotion on her face -- not one you can identify, but more than the stoic blankness she's worn this last year. "I knew a boy before the war," she says slowly, and you say nothing, and listen. "We grew up together. Planned our lives out together. But when the war began we both joined up with the independents." She stops.
"He died?" you say softly.
"We were captured by Alliance. They skinned him alive in front of me and fed him to their animals."
You suck in a sharp breath despite yourself. Zoe does not look towards you, but she says, "You don't forget things, but you let them fade as the years go by. And that's a mistake."
You don't have any words within you to respond to that, but you comfort her again the best way you know.
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